There’s a lot of debate as to who owns the title of NFL’s best wide receiver.
A.J. Green was making a good argument for it before going down with an injury this season and Julio Jones has done the same, en route to a Super Bowl appearance on Sunday.
FiveThirtyEight took into account a variety of statistics and measures to come up with a list of the top 20 receivers of the last three years in the NFL. Green ranks as the third best receiver on the list, finishing behind Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. Green bested those two in one category: the depth of the passes thrown his way, or, air yards per target. Indeed, Green had a number of memorable deep plays against some of the league’s best corners, including torching the New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis for a 54 yard touchdown in Week 1, and burning Washington’s Josh Norman time and time again in Week 8. To take a look back at Green’s best plays of the year, watch the following highlight video:
While FiveThirtyEight did an admirable job of accounting for most of the relevant factors (including ProFootballFocus.com’s run blocking grades), they did not consider supporting cast. Jones is playing on the NFC Champion Falcons, an absolute offensive juggernaut of a team, the highest scoring team in the league led by the likely MVP of the NFL, Matt Ryan. Meanwhile, Brown has one of the best offensive lines in the game, arguably the best running back in the game (Le’Veon Bell) and a quarterback who put up more yards per game than Andy Dalton, and also threw for 11 more touchdowns, despite starting two fewer games. In other words, the Bengals’ offense had a down year, and that likely was a factor in Green’s stats. And yet, were it not for an unfortunate hamstring injury, Green probably would have had a career year. If that injury hadn’t happened, and the Bengals’ offensive line opened more holes in the running game and gave Dalton a little more time to throw, Green likely would have established himself as the best wide receiver in the game. But there’s no reason to live in hypotheticals— we’ll just have to wait for Green to bounce-back from his injury and cement his place atop such rankings in 2017.